Common knowledge is that the key to improved bone density and overall bone health is plenty of calcium-rich foods, but does that theory really hold in practice?
According to this study, magnesium, which is commonly found in sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, basil, broccoli and spinach, may be the real key to stronger and healthier bones.
Looking Critically At Calcium
Several studies have linked elevated levels of calcium, and particularly the use of calcium supplements, with a greater risk for heart attacks, especially in women.
Calcium supplements are a poor substitute for dietary calcium, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Too much calcium from supplements is directly related to kidney stones and other health problems.
Calcium carbonate, found in most calcium supplements and also in pasteurized milk, is notoriously difficult for the body to absorb without a chelating agent like citric acid.
A 2007 study showed that calcium from dietary sources has more favorable effects on bone health than calcium from supplements in postmenopausal women.
Abrams was the head of a study at the Baylor College of Medicine that focused on the intake and absorption of magnesium during childhood. What they found was surprising – while calcium intake and absorption was not significantly associated with the total bone mineral content and bone density, magnesium intake and absorption clearly was.
“Dietary magnesium intake may be an important, relatively unrecognized, factor in bone mineral accretion in children,” the researchers revealed.
“Lots of nutrients are key for children to have healthy bones. One of these appears to be magnesium,” said Abrams. “Calcium is important, but, except for those children and adolescents with very low intakes, may not be more important than magnesium.”
What concerned researchers was the fact that while calcium intake is widely promoted for better bone health, other relevant minerals such as magnesium were going relatively unremarked on. They suggest that parents in particular make sure their children get plenty of magnesium for healthy bone growth – and would like to see more awareness about the role magnesium plays in bone health increase in general.
Magnesium intake isn’t just important for children – the elderly, who are at increased risk for bone fractures, should be getting plenty of magnesium as well, according to a report by Kathryn M. Ride and colleagues from the University of Memphis, Tennessee.
Supplementing With Dietary Magnesium
Historically, the ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium in the diet appears to be a 1:1 ratio. Even a ratio of 2:1 is adequate; however, today’s diets contain a calcium to magnesium ratio of closer to 10:1 – that’s ten times more calcium than magnesium!
Magnesium-rich foods are common; Cacao, seeds, nuts of any kind, and green leafy vegetables are often full of magnesium. Epsom salt, which is made of magnesium sulfate, can also be added to a hot bath and absorbed through your skin.
While it’s best to get your magnesium naturally, many people are deficient in this mineral and may also want to consider taking magnesium supplements. The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 350-400 mg per day – and most magnesium capsules contain between 250 and 500 mg of magnesium, and can be taken with meals or on an empty stomach.
Measuring the levels of magnesium in the body can be tricky – only a tiny fraction of your body’s magnesium is stored in the blood, and if that level drops, your body naturally takes magnesium from your bones and tissue to replenish that level. The result of this is that while a blood test may show a normal reading of magnesium levels, your body could still be deficient in the mineral.
Whether you get your magnesium from a dietary supplement or from food, it’s important to make sure it’s a regular part of your diet.